Saturday, July 07, 2012

Hebrews Video Commentary 1:5-14

I continue my re-videoing of Hebrews commentary

Previously, Hebrews 1:1-4

Now, Hebrews 1:5-14 (39 minutes), followed by my written Explanatory Notes:

Explanatory Notes (Hebrews 1:5-14)
The first four verses of Hebrews ended with the statement that Christ "sat down on the right hand of Majesty in the heights, having become as much greater than the angels as the name he has inherited is greater than them."

1. Timing
This mention of the angels provides a convenient segway into a chain of quotations that demonstrate the superiority of Christ to the angels in 1:5-14. 1:3-4 straightforwardly point to the timing of Christ's superiority--it is after he is exalted to God's right hand. Christ sat at God's right hand, thereby becoming greater than the angels.

Hebrews 2 will give us further background to this setting because it indicates that Christ became lower than the angels for a little while in his earthly life. We should thus read the chain of quotes in relation to the exalted, post-resurrection Christ. The burden of proof is squarely on anyone who would suggest otherwise.

2. Structure
There is a straightforward structure to this "catena" or chain of quotes:

a. The first and last quotes form what is called an inclusio--they are both introduced with the same words--"To which of the angels has He said at any time" (1:5, 13). That signals the beginning and ending to the chain.

b. Verse 7 forms an "on the one hand" (μεν)-"on the other hand (δε) relation with 8-12. This makes it unlikely that the chain is shaped in the shape of some chiasm (e.g., Meier, A, B, C, C, B, A). Further, we should thus look for the point of contrast with verse 7 to know the main reason the author uses the specific quotes of 8-12.

3. Meaning
1:5 "For to which of the angels has He said at any time, 'You are my Son; today I have given you birth' and "I will be a Father to him, and he will be a Son?'"

These OT passages, Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7:14, were passages that we find the Dead Sea Scrolls use in relation to the Messiah. In their OT contexts they of course referred to the early king. Here, however, they are used in relation to the exalted Christ, who is enthroned at the point of his exaltation to God's right hand. This is the timing also of Acts 13:33 and Romans 1:3.

God has never made the angels king, but He has just made Jesus king, Christ, Son of God.

This leads us to the question of the name Christ has inherited. Given the context, we are immediately pushed to think that the name is Son. The word "for" in 1:5 seems to be substantiating and/or explaining what 1:4 has just said, and 1:4 has just said Jesus was given a name more excellent than them.

On the other hand, Richard Bauckham argues vigorously that the name must be Yahweh, or Lord. After all, this is in fact God's specific name. The reasoning fits well with our ways of thinking. Son is a category, not a name as we use the word in English. The proper name of God is Yahweh and so this is the name the Father would pass on to His Son.

And the translation of Yahweh into Greek is Lord, which appears later in the passage. Further, it seems very likely that the "name above all names" Philippians 2 is Yahweh or Lord, so we have evidence of a tradition.

Bauckham is brilliant, but his logic seems foreign to the text of Hebrews. Further, it is not the direction the context seems to be pushing since 1) the verse immediately following 1:4 uses the word Son and 2) nothing is made of the word Lord beyond its use in one of the later quotes. 

In any case, Son is a royal title, so perhaps we should not push too big a distinction between the "divine titles" of this chain of quotations: Son, God, and Lord.

1:6 "And again, whenever He leads His firstborn Son into the civilized world he says, 'And let all the angels of God worship him.'"

This verse connects to the previous one in structure--"To which (5a)... and (5b)... and again (6)."

It is easy for us to read this verse in relation to Christ's birth, but this is apparently not what the author was thinking. The context does not place Christ above the angels in his earthly life but in his exalted state after the resurrection. On earth he becomes "lower than the angels."

The "whenever" could lead a person to see this verse in relation to the second coming, especially if you relocate the word again--"whenever He leads His firstborn Son into the world again." But given the contextual setting (and given the use of this word, "civilized world," in 2:5), we should take this verse in relation to Christ's arrival in heaven after his resurrection. Notice that the civilized world has been relocated now in heaven rather than on earth, perhaps in the light of Jerusalem's destruction.

The picture is again an enthronement, and the word "worship" here is a word used of the proper due given to a king. It is not a word restricted to the worship of a conventional god. The picture is thus a celebration of the arrival of the king into his throneroom, and all the subjects of the kingdom in the room (the angels) bow.

1:7 "And to the angels, on the one hand, he says, 'The one who makes His angels winds and His ministers a flame of fire."

This begins the second group of three quotes.  The "on the one hand" indicates that this verse contrasts with all of 1:8-12. Angels are servants of God in the creation--runners, servants in the kingdom. The chain ends with an apt recapitulation of this idea--"Are they not all ministering spirits send for those about to inherit salvation."

1:8-9 "But to the Son, 'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever and the staff of straightness is the staff of your kingdom. You loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. On account of this, God--your God--has anointed you with an oil of exaltation in the presence of your companions."

This is Psalm 45, a wedding psalm originally addressed to a human king. The word "God" here thus highlights the fact once again that Jesus is king, just as the title Son of God does. It was originally in the OT, of course, a somewhat metaphorical address, as the psalm goes on to distinguish the human king as God from the king's God, the literal God. The imagery of anointing evokes a sense of kingship also, as well as the title Christ.

But the points of contrast with verse 7 have to do with the Son's permanence and royalty. The angels are like winds and flames--constantly changing. The Son's throne is forever and ever. Similarly, they are ministers, servants. Christ is king.

1:10-12--"and 'You at the beginning, Lord, founded the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands. They will perish, but you remain, and they all as a garment will become old, and as a wrap you will wrap them up, as a garment they will even be changed. But you are the same and your years will not fail."

This is another reference to Christ in relation to creation (cf. 1:2). But the point of contrast is again that the angels are transitory like winds and flames--indeed like the creation. But Christ the Lord will remain forever, even after the creation is destroyed. The destruction of the cosmos anticipates the mention of its removal in chapter 12.

1:13 "But to which of the angels has He said at any time, 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.'"

Thus the chain comes to a full circle. We know from 1 Corinthians 15 that Psalm 2 (1:5) and Psalm 110:1 (1:14) were connected in Pauline circles. So the author of Hebrews similarly connects them. We end with a clear reference to the exaltation, but it has been in mind throughout.

1:14--"Are they not all ministering spirits sent to minister to those about to inherit salvation?"

This verse squarely locates the earthly function of the angels during the old age. Their role may linger until the creation is removed, but at some point they will only worship God and the Son, their task on earth being done. We remember that 2:2 associates them with the giving of the Law, again reminding us of their old covenant role.

We are left wondering why the author spends so much time here contrasting Christ with the angels. Certainly an easy answer is the fact that the angels delivered the law. In that sense it is perfectly appropriate to contrast the two as mediators of the two covenants.

Did the audience have an overly inflated view of angels? Did they worship angels? Did they think Christ was just an angel? It is usually at this point that Colossians 2 is brought into discussion or the Dead Sea document that refers to an angel Melchizedek.

We cannot say too certainly one way or another. If anything, it would fit best if the audience associated the angels with heavenly atonement, as we find in the Testament of Levi and the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice.


Brian Small said...

Hey Ken, will you have these videos all on one page that I can link to from my blog?

Ken Schenck said...

That's certainly the plan eventually.

John C. Gardner said...

Hi Ken,
Since Hebrews is anonymous is there any scholarly consensus about who may have written this letter?

Ken Schenck said...

The consensus is that we don't know ;-) If I had to pick anyone (which you shouldn't do), I'd pick Apollos, but I am troubled that his name doesn't seem to have been suggested until Martin Luther.

We just don't know. A male, yes. A Greek-speaking Jew, very likely. Someone in connection with the Pauline circle, I think so.